The Linguistics of Humanity: How Words Can Hurt and Heal

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Post author Rev. Sheila Sholes-Ross is Co-Chair of Equity for Women in the Church, Inc.  Rev. Sholes-Ross was ordained through American Baptist Churches, USA, and called as the 30th pastor of First Baptist Church of Pittsfield, Massachusetts in November 2013, as the church's first African-American female pastor.  She is a former board member of The Alliance of Baptists. 

During a recent religious community meeting, with area clergy and lay church workers, I was intrigued by a presentation and the conversation which ensued regarding a study conducted by the Pew Research Center in December 2017, When Americans Say They Believe in God, What Do They Mean? A powerful discussion was initiated relating to the linguistics within the study, and how words are always significant to receivers and reviewers of words. So of course, I thought about Equity for Women in the Church, and our passion to eradicate certain patriarchal traditions in the religious settings. 

Are we not advocating to reduce, no remove, such traditions that have hindered women called by God to become senior pastors? We consider the time in which texts, such as 1 Timothy 2:12 that stipulates women should keep silent, were written and the agenda behind them. We know how badly the words of these texts hurt, and how they continue in this 21st century to perpetrate injustice toward women in ministry. There are times when we, as “Equity” advocates are preaching to the choir, when our advocacy is minimized when we, too, are not concerned with how “our” words can truly heal or hurt. Are we doing enough beyond our passionate movement? So, I will not spend time refuting I Timothy 2:12; it’s not needed, but what is needed is an introspection regarding our use of “all” words. It is documented in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament Scriptures that words can heal and hurt. Hopefully this piece will challenge us to reflect upon our own use of words in all given situations.

Since comments were allowed during that presentation I referenced the importance of bringing into any conversation a person’s contextual history, inclusion of current perspectives, along with an unambiguous understanding of those factors. All must be infused into how words are delivered and received. Impossible, right? During prior community meetings I have been known to use female imagery to reference God…usually it’s ignored or tolerated, but I maintain the advocacy. Anyway, I kept referencing that to ensure that people find some connection during a conversation, especially during this social media age, that the use of language must be inclusive and respectful, and not just tolerated.

That’s when the discussion led to my “aha” moment—an epiphany. “What if we, as human beings, will actually consciously work on the words we use and how we use them with others and even to ourselves?” Yes, “freedom of speech” is important; one’s right to think independently is critical. But, what about the importance of having caring hearts for “all” of humanity and being respectful even when there are differing ideologies? We are losing our caring hearts in America with so many of us wielding hurtful words that may take a lifetime to heal.

The Bible, with its offering of religious information, can also be viewed as a book of history. It offers support that Bible writers, in ancient times, perceived that the use of words was significant as exemplified in Proverbs 18:21 which states, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat of its fruit” (NRSV). The Ancients understood something of importance.

When words come from our lips during conversations or from our fingers through social media and technology, they may be ill-considered, even crude. Yes, death of one’s spirit can come about with hurtful words. For example, telling a child he or she may not amount to anything because of where they are from is speaking death to that child’s spirit. Think about it. Even familiar phrases can be hurtful to some, such as the phrase “You Guys” when there are women in the midst of the addressed group. Are we not then continuing patriarchal traditions? Currently, it seems that people, especially some religious people in America are promoting a lot of hurtful words across situations and issues, as well as amongst various people and ethnicities. Are we eating negative fruit repercussions with our words? Do we all need an intervention to examine our choice and use of words? Lately, have you truly listened to words offered you, and were they hurtful? Were the words unnecessarily critical or condescending? How did this make you feel? Yes, death and life can be in the power of the tongue…and now, in the 21st Century, with fingers and “send” buttons. But just as hurtful words can wound, words of encouragement can be life changing and healing. 

A New Testament Scripture states, “But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way…” (Ephesians 4:15, NRSV). Many of us have problems with one’s “truth.” And, even if there is a misconception regarding one’s personal truth, it is definitely not spoken in a loving manner, and so we are not growing in human kindness and respect of others. The time has come to take a realistic look at ourselves and recognize that words are important. Be the person whose words, however presented, offer healing instead of death and hurt. Be the person who seeks truth, whose words are not merely shaped by your dislike of people who do not look like, act or think in ways that you do. Yes, speak truth, but allow that truth to come from a person infiltrated with love towards humanity. Have a lasting positive impact upon another person.

I am also encouraged when I read Joel 2:28, “Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and daughters shall prophesy…” (NRSV). Maybe, we as Equity for Women in the Church, Inc. must challenge people to examine the use of their words, whether in a conversation, church setting, text or Twitter; in all venues. I want my words to humanity to be healing and not hurtful; however, I am imperfect. So, when mistakes are made, I am willing to accept responsibility and make amends. Also, we must meet people where they are so that positive interactions can take place. For example, many of the members of the church in which I serve are mainly used to patriarchal imagery and language. However, during worship times I have been known to say “She and He—whatever your comfort level is to reference God.” During sermons and prayers, I reference God by other names, “Holy One, Redeemer, One of Light.” But also, I am becoming more mindful in other settings my use of words to others, and even to self. Are you ready to take on an additional challenge regarding your use of words that can possibly aide the Equity movement? We must be models for others. Some may think this is not a critical matter, but we must assure them that it is. Have you given up watching the news or unfriended or blocked someone on your social media outlets? Why? Maybe it’s because the messages are hurtful and they crush your spirit.   

Are you a healer or do your words hurt people? Maybe it’s unintentional, but then it’s your responsibility to do a self-examination and figure out what is hurtful and fix it. Maybe this piece will assist. Let us be bold in our advocacy on behalf of Equity For Women in the Church, but also let us have a caring heart, and express that care through the use of our words in various settings. Equity for Women in the Church, Inc. is an organization focusing on healing and justice for women in ministry. We hope all will connect with us and receive healing as we grow as a people in community.

Taking Back My Righteous Mind...and Body


Rev. Dr. Irie L. Session, Co-Founder and Co-Pastor of The Gathering, A Womanist Church in Dallas, Texas is also a social and spiritual entrepreneur. With over 30+ years providing social services and ministry, Dr. Irie is committed to doing whatever she can wherever she can to help create a more just church and society.


Like many women raised in a Christian church I was taught certain things about my body. Much of what I learned had the word don’t in front of it. 
Don’t wear your dresses too short. 
Don’t wear your pants too tight. 
Don’t sit with your legs too far apart.
Don’t show your cleavage.
And don’t wear too much lipstick, especially not red lipstick. 

As I would study the Bible in search of the “right ways” to handle my body, particularly as I began to think about marriage, there was one biblical passage that caused me a great deal of consternation and confusion. In 1 Corinthians chapter 7 Paul writes these words, “the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does.” The message this scripture communicated to me was that as a woman, “your body isn’t yours.” Now you have to understand, as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and a Black woman whose great great grandmother was enslaved, the idea of not having power over my own body, and it belonging to someone else, particularly a man, was problematic for me. Here’s why.

One of the many adverse consequences of surviving sexual trauma, especially as a child, is feeling not in control of one’s own body. What I mean is this, if in a person’s first sexual experience they were unable to give consent, if their bodies were imposed upon, it is likely they will grow up with a belief that when certain persons want their body, they cannot say no. In other words, they don’t have bodyright - the authority to decide what happens to one’s own body. Others, typically people viewed as more powerful than they, are the ones who have rights to the bodies of survivors of sexual abuse. It’s learned powerlessness. So, even though a survivor may want to say no, they feel powerless to do so. Their bodies can be screaming NO I DON’T WANT THIS, but nothing comes out of their mouths. Because early on, when their bodies were imposed upon, they were silenced, rendered powerless, unable to give consent. Similarly, as a woman who is also Black, I experienced sexual trauma at the intersection of gender and race. Black women’s bodies have historically been less valuable than the bodies of non-black women.  

So, although I found the 1 Corinthians 7 scripture problematic, at least the way it had been interpreted and applied, in order to be a “good” Christian woman and wife, I submitted to what I had been taught; I did not have authority over my own body. My ex-husband did . It mattered not if he was verbally and physically abusive to me; if and when he wanted my body, it was my responsibility, no matter how I felt emotionally, to make it available to him. And each time I did that, each time I handed my body over to him following an abusive verbal assault or violent tantrum, I died a little inside. But that’s the nature of patriarchy. It’s death dealing. 

In the church of my baptism, the virus of patriarchal privilege (where male desire, ideology, and perspectives are centered and normative) infected all biblical teaching. Women’s voices, in and out of the biblical text were marginalized. It has taken over thirty years for me to, with the help of the Holy Spirit, and a sistership consisting of womanist and feminist biblical scholars, theologians, preachers and colleagues, come to voice. I wish I could say, that the virus of patriarchal privilege, and it’s attendant patriarchal Christianity has been flushed completely out of my psyche. But, because it persists, it’s a daily cleansing.

The Christian Church has adopted a patriarchal Christianity whereby Paul’s words to the Corinthian church have been used as a means of controlling the bodies of women and girls. What is most heartbreaking, is that men are not the only persons who adhere to patriarchal Christianity. Women who’ve been fed a steady diet of this unhealthy theology from a child have also internalized it; these church women will all too often fight tooth and nail to hold on to it. 

For the past thirty plus years I have committed my life and ministry to dismantling what I call PMS (patriarchy, misogyny, and sexism). One of the most effective ways I’ve found for eradicating PMS, particularly among those who claim to be followers of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, is re-telling biblical stories and narratives through womanist biblical interpretation. Womanist theology and interpretation saved my righteous mind. Womanism enabled me to see myself as a woman who had been sinned against by a system that marginalized my very being as a Black woman. Womanism helped me understand the many ways I had internalized the lie that by virtue of my race and gender I was worthless and voiceless. Womanism gave me a clearer lens through which to view the world and my place in it. I am valuable, not despite my gender and blackness, but because of it.  My gender and race give me a unique perspective from which to understand the world and the injustices therein.

Such an epistemology affords me and other womanists a unique advantage as change agents and transformative leaders. What’s beautiful about living at this intersection, despite the challenges, is knowing God made me that way. For all those living at the intersection of gender, race, and even class oppression, we have a story—something to say that the world needs to hear. Our voices and creativity are critical to the eradication of social injustice; we see the complexities and nuances of racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism and other isms that marginalize and oppress members of the human family of God. We are necessary.

(In referencing my ex-husband, I am speaking of the husband in my second marriage.)

Cracking the Stained Glass Ceiling: An Interview with Pastor Amy Butler

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The Rev. Dr. Amy Butler is the Seventh Senior Minister of The Riverside Church in the City of New York.  Pastor Amy—her preferred title—is the first woman to hold this position in the 1,750-member church’s 87 year history.  Amidst Advent activities and her usual full load of meetings, preaching preparation, pastoral care, and political activism, she graciously agreed to an interview for Equity for Women in the Church, Inc.’s blog with board member Lynn Casteel Harper.

To reach Pastor Amy’s office, one must ascend to the high places—to the 19th floor of the tallest church in America.  Her office’s contents reflect her pastoral leadership style—warm and intentional, invitational and boldly direct: a comfortable but commanding dark blue sectional (her “power couch,” she laughs), an antique but sturdy wooden desk that once served as a communion table, two well-stocked book shelves, and a coffee table with a single book atop it—Rebecca Solnit’s Men Tell Me Things.  “That’s there on purpose,” she says.  “It says, ‘you’ve been put on notice.’”  Such anti-sexism signals prove sadly necessary, as Amy tells of a lay leader who recently told her she was “a very immature leader” and gave her the names of two “experienced” male pastors who could mentor her. 

The insecurities and anxieties of male church leaders, however, are nothing new to Amy.  “There have been times in my career where I have worked for bosses—all men—who felt threatened by my work,” she recalls.  “They held the reigns really tightly, protected the pulpit really tightly, because—I don’t know why—they couldn’t control me or whatever.  I just always thought, ‘That’s really stupid because if I do well, you look better!’”  Amy’s approach departs from this brand of controlling, anxious leadership.  Rather than feeling threatened by the good work of others, Amy abides by a different philosophy: “Hire someone who knows how to do the work better than you do, and then let them do it!” 

Although resisting oversimplification, Amy notes, “Women have a different approach to leadership in general.”  Committed to an expansive, relational management model, Amy readily asks for the help and training she needs, and collects wise people around her to advise and coach her.  “A big part of my approach to doing my work,” she comments, “is just celebrating my colleagues and trying to model this sort of connectional collaboration.”  While Amy fully acknowledges that not many churches have the resources of Riverside, she maintains that building one’s team and gathering circles of support are learned skills and need not hinge on the capacity to hire a large staff.  “Find the people [in the congregation] who have the passion and the skills and the health,” she advises, “and put them in places where they can be effective, then let them flourish.”

Amy wants to see clergywomen flourish, too—which, she maintains, means adequately preparing women to lead declining or transitioning congregations.  “Because of the inequity in the church, we who are now breaking glass ceilings and getting jobs are getting jobs that men don’t want,” she asserts.  “We’re the ones who are being handed these ‘well, we-don’t-know-how-to-fix-it, so good luck’ churches […] To help a church die or to help a church transform, those are extraordinarily specialized leadership skills.”  Because these skills are not typically taught in seminary, Amy believes leadership organizations, denominations, and nonprofits like Equity for Women in the Church, Inc. can support women by helping them gain the necessary business and leadership acumen to succeed in highly complex pastorates.

While the work requires administrative savvy, it also requires “a very keen pastoral sensibility,” Amy notes.  “Churches are so funny; it’s not like you could hire a business person, a CEO, to come in and clean things up administratively.  That would never work because you have to have the relational trust.”  Amy regularly invites congregants to her home for what she calls the “Pastor’s Table” and keeps open office hours for congregants to visit.  It is hard enough to be a change-agent in any church, which Amy calls “punishing” work at times; the additional layer of sexism and patriarchy produces especial difficulty for female pastors: “It requires not only sophisticated skill but a level of spiritual engagement and discernment that is pretty substantial.”  Central to equality for clergywomen in the church, Amy is convinced, requires equipping women early in their careers (and supporting them throughout) for “a very sophisticated kind of leadership” that involves balancing administrative, organizational, and pastoral demands amidst the forces of sexism.

Amy admits that the focus on her gender—“everyone wants to talk about me being the first woman”—sometimes frustrates her: “I got this job because I’m good at what I do!”  But she quickly tempers her indignation, recognizing the importance of her unique position.  In recent months Amy has written on abortion and two pieces on sexual harassment.  “I had a friend say to me, ‘We’ve never in this country had a woman in the tallest steeple in America talking about women’s issues.  We’ve had some nice men who have done it, but it’s different’.”  Amy feels a deep responsibility to use her platform.  “And I’ve been angry with myself with all this stuff coming out [about sexual harassment], because I should have cared enough about myself that I would’ve spoken up earlier.  But it’s twenty years of ordination of just keeping your head down and taking it.  Because that’s what you have to do.”  She refuses to remain silent any longer.  

“I hate to say it but it was only this past year that I sort of woke up.  I talk about racism all the time, why am I not talking about misogyny and sexism? […]We have to value ourselves enough to say, ‘Hey wait a minute, this is just as bad’.”  Amy’s newfound momentum is on full display from the pulpit (e.g., her Father’s Day sermon on Sarah, entitled “Hysterical,” is a must-see).  Riverside’s laity and staff will undergo a full sexual harassment training program in early 2018.  Riverside is launching a support group for women who need the church to provide a safe space.  And all church bathrooms will display clear placards that contain resources and state the church’s policy. “Isn’t it a shame that the churches, of all places, shouldn’t be the place that says ‘oh no, no’?”

Increased visibility of clergywomen, Amy stresses, helps to crack the foundations of patriarchy and its attendant sins (harassment, abuse, exploitation).   “Any time we can see women in roles of leadership doing good work,” Amy asserts, “we’re changing people’s perception and chipping away at the patriarchy we all live with.  The more we see, the more normal it becomes to us.”  She recounts Children Sabbath services at her previous church in which the little girls wore her stoles and administered communion, and when they would show up on Halloween dressed as pastors.  Once, when Amy was a guest preacher at another church in town, she took her young children with her.  Her daughter, who was seven at the time, noticed the portraits of the former pastors (all men) lining the hallway, and blurted out indignantly: “MOM!  WHERE ARE THE GIRLS?”  Amy laughs, “I remember my kids being stunned to find out that men could be pastors!”

What is the most basic yet profound way Amy challenges patriarchy? “Get up every day and come to work,” she says reflexively, confidently.  Almost on cue, there’s a knock at her office door: Amy’s next appointment is here.  She rises from her couch to open the door. 

There are more questions to ask, more ground to cover, but the pastor must return to her immediate charges, to the daily work of connectional collaboration.  The pursuit of equity, after all, might be this ordinary: answering the knock at one’s door and greeting the next opportunity with unblinking courage and faith.      


The Will to Fight

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Post author Dr. Cynthia R. Cole, M.Div., D. Min., is a pastor and an advocate for the disenfranchised. She is the founder of CC’s Ministries, a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to meeting the safety and security needs of residents in South Dallas, Texas. She is the Senior Pastor of Metropolitan A.M.E. Church in Dallas, where she has served for over a decade. A former law enforcement professional and hospice chaplain, she is deeply committed to cultivating the healing, wholeness, and empowerment necessary for growth in every facet of human life.

The journey to wholeness and healing has been fraught with many roadblocks. These roadblocks have challenged my physical, mental, and emotional health, and I’ve had to muster the strength to deal with both my mother’s abuse from my stepfather and my own abuse from my former husband. Like my mother, I married and bore a daughter at a very young age. After I was forced at gunpoint to leave my abusive marriage, I found employment and studied to receive my high school diploma equivalency from the North Carolina State Board of Community Colleges. I began a career in law enforcement because I wanted to be able to protect myself and my daughter. After twenty-five years of service, I retired from law enforcement in 1999.

Overcoming the varied manifestations of violence that I have had to confront domestically, professionally, and ecclesiastically, requires a will to fight. I liken my life’s path to that of the character Sophia in Alice Walker’s, The Color Purple. One of the famous lines from the book is, “All my life I’ve had to fight.” Yes, I’ve had to fight, but I draw strength from God and from my personal pain in order to empower women to stand against any form of domestic, professional, and ecclesiastical violence. This is the mission of my ministry.

When I first embraced the call to preach, God showed me clearly that there was a need for a healing ministry for women. This healing ministry would focus on repairing broken family relationships, abuse, and neglect. I was inspired to bring together twenty-five chosen women for a healing, deliverance, and empowerment conference. The initial gathering of women evolved into what was eventually called “The Christmas Delight.” I presented it as an annual event the first weekend of December in 2001. Over the years since, I have received many letters from women who have attended, sharing with me testimonies of how God spoke into their lives through this ministry event. This year, December 16, 2017, we are extending the invitation to include men out of a desire to establish communal wholeness.

As a second means for answering the call to promote healing, I established a non-profit organization in 2004, CC’s Ministries. The mission of CC’s Ministries is to meet the needs of residents living in South Dallas who are disenfranchised and impoverished. I purchased a home in Southern Dallas County with the short-term objective of converting it into a safe house for abused women and children. In pursuing this work, I have discovered that the community also benefits from other basic needs such as food, clothing, and counseling. Since 2004, CC’s Ministries has provided these services to countless families in South Dallas and abroad.

I have chosen to take my life experiences and channel them into meaningful, liberating ministry. I believe firmly in women taking authority and operating in their own agency as empowered persons capable of any task set before them, especially ministry. Again, I have come to these conclusions from my own struggles in leadership. On November 17, 2007, my commitment to fight violence through loving ministry was tested as I was assigned to a congregation, following a retired pastor who had served the local congregation for thirty-three years. The retired minister remained with the congregation as an active member until his death in 2013.

When I first arrived, members of the congregation appeared to be excited to hear a new voice and to experience a new style of preaching. However, conflict soon arose. My authority as pastor was undermined by the antics of the former pastor who was directing members from behind the scenes. He discouraged members from receiving communion from me, suggesting that they would be taking it to their “damnation.” God blessed the ministry despite his efforts to sabotage it. Fourteen new members joined in the first month. These new members needed to be baptized, but the ministerial staff at the church refused to assist me in baptizing them. One of the ministerial staff members blatantly stated that no woman has the authority to speak, lead, or guide a man. Despite his sentiments and without his assistance, I baptized all fourteen new members over the months to follow.

I wish I could say I was surprised, but ministry is not my first experience in a male-oriented field. As previously stated, I worked in law enforcement, and as a result, I was well aware of how women are treated differently from their male colleagues. The difference between my expectations in law enforcement and the church is that I expected Christians to act differently than the members of secular society. Nothing could have prepared me for the harsh way I have been treated over the years by people who say they love God and are seeking to be more Christ-like. It is as though I am competing against men who have identified it as their mission to show me that my place is not beside them but rather beneath them. I am also fighting against women who have internalized sexism and patriarchy. They want to convince me that I am wrong for moving out of the submissive female role.

One scriptural passage that has helped me frame my journey is 2 Timothy 4:7 (NIV), which states, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Like the Apostle Paul, who penned these words to Timothy before his impending execution, I am determined to stand for what is right even if I stand alone or am ostracized for it. I cannot say that I have attained perfection, but the will to fight urges me on. I pray that others will also be inspired to oppose any form of discrimination that hinders people from expressing their full selves or achieving their full potential in God the Creator.

I Wish Someone Had Told Me

Post author Dr. Alfie Wines, M.Div., Ph.D., is a pastor, biblical scholar, and theologian. She currently serves as Senior Pastor of Union Memorial United Methodist Church, Sandy, Texas.  She draws upon her unquenchable passions for biblical interpretation, biblical & religious literacy, worship, music, prayer, and leadership to enlighten, edify, and empower others. She is committed to encouraging compassionate living through a deeper understanding of the biblical text. Find her #BibleStudyRemix on FB Live, Mondays at 7 pm CST, and after the broadcast here


My experiences and those of many clergywomen confirm that the church is both a blessed place and a frustrating place to work. While that can be said of any workplace, for many clergywomen, myself included, that duality is magnified and multiplied more times that we’d like to count when the workplace is the church.

The responsibility and opportunity to regularly speak a word of healing and wholeness in various settings is a blessing in and of itself. Years of study along with the work of ministry become a part of one’s life. In time, ministry becomes not just what a clergywoman does, but a part of who she is.

How is it then, that the church is both a blessed place and a frustrating place to work? How is it that so often the people with whom she ministers, the ones she is trying to help, are the very ones who can be the cause of so much pain?

More than once, I’ve asked these questions of myself, and of other clergywomen as well. More than once, I’ve thought, and said out loud, “I wish someone had told me. I wish someone had told me just how difficult the journey can be.”

Whenever the question arises, I am drawn to the story of Abraham and how it is that God does not tell him everything from the beginning. In Genesis 12, Abraham’s first encounter with God, God promises to bless Abraham and make his name great, so that he would be a blessing to all the families of the earth.

In Genesis 15 God tells Abraham that the land from the Nile to the Euphrates, a land already inhabited by several groups of people, will belong to his descendants, that his descendants will be enslaved in another land and come out with many possessions, eventually returning to the promised land in the fourth generation.

In Genesis 17, after Hagar has given birth to Abraham’s son, Ishmael, God reiterates the promise of descendants and commands circumcision as a sign of the covenant between God, Abraham, and Abraham’s descendants. Furthermore, God explains God will bless Ishmael to be a great nation, but that Sarah will give birth to a son who will be Abraham’s heir. 

What strikes me about these passages is not just what God says, but also what God does not say to Abraham about the promises God makes. In ch. 12, God speaks only of the blessing. No mention is made of the difficulties that accompany the promise to make Abraham a blessing to all the earth. In ch. 15 God mentions geographical boundaries, noting that the land is already inhabited and that enslavement and return will be part of Israel’s story. There is no mention that war will comprise a major part of the story. In ch. 17 God explains that Sarah will give birth and that Ishmael will be blessed with descendants. While it is implied by its absence, there is no mention that Ishmael’s nation will not be given any land. There is not even a hint that national decline, exile, and return is also part of the biblical story.   

While this pattern can be seen in the lives of other biblical call stories, for example Isaiah and Jeremiah, it is a major feature in Abraham’s story. Many women in ministry can attest to this same pattern.         

As with Abraham, clergywomen are blessed to be a blessing. As with Abraham, it is also clear that hardly anyone talks about how difficult the journey can be. Perhaps that is the way it is when the undertaking is unchartered territory.

However, women in ministry is no longer unchartered territory. Still, women in ministry have born the pain and lived with the scars. At a time when it is clear that every system, every institution, the church included, is in need of a long overdue overhaul in order to be inclusive, the time for clergywomen to be silent is no longer. 

Here are some things that clergywomen might wish someone—pastor, mentor, colleague, professor—had told them early on as they considered and responded to God’s call in their lives. 

First, church work pays not just less, but a whole lot less, than the corporate workplace.

Second, although “politics” is part of life in any workplace, politics in the church can be even more intense.

Third, while they may have experienced sexism and/or racism in the workplace in other settings, sadly, their most painful experiences can happen in the church.

Fourth, while networking among colleagues is part of any job, it is essential to surviving and thriving in ministry. 

Fifth, the work of a pastor is often a lonely undertaking, especially in a small church with relatively little regular contact with others, including colleagues who understand how difficult the work can be.

Sixth, with so much of the work needing to be done on a weekly basis, repetitiveness may result in work that is neither challenging nor engaging. 

Seventh, built in previous decades, church offices are often dated in comparison to offices built in more recent times.

Eighth, the energy required to meet the demands of church work is quite different than the energy needed in other workplaces.  

Ninth, churches are not held accountable for their missteps.  

Tenth, churches are often more interested in maintaining the status quo of the past than living Jesus’ commandments to love God, others, and oneself.

If you are a clergywoman, please share your experiences. What do you wish someone had told you as you considered and answered God’s call in your life? How can Equity for Women in the Church be a voice and advocate for clergywomen?

Men Speak Out for Equity for Women in the Church

This blog post features male voices speaking out in support of Equity for Women in the Church’s mission.  We asked contributors to respond to this prompt: 

Often advocating for women in ministry is seen as a “women’s issue,” rather than as an urgent justice matter that impacts the whole church and every gender.  Why is the equal representation of clergywomen as pastors important for men, too?  How can men advocate on behalf of women in ministry? 

Each respondent offers his own creative insight and call to wholeness...

Rev. Dr. Marvin McMickle, President, Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School:

I should begin by saying that my pastor for the first eight years of my life was The Rev. Mary G. Evans of Cosmopolitan Community Church in Chicago. It was because of her, that I could never join the chorus of those who sought to argue that women could not or should not be in the Christian ministry. This 1930s University of Chicago Divinity School trained woman remains the standard by which I measure all other clergy; male or female.

Just as important for me is Paul’s reference to Phoebe in Romans 16:1-2 where Paul refers to Phoebe, one of his female followers by the term diakonos, the exact same term he uses whenever he refers to Timothy or other male followers of Jesus. Granted, Paul seems to point in a different direction when he speaks about women in I Corinthians 14:33-35 and I Timothy 2:11-12. In those two passage Paul seems to either discourage or disallow women any voice or leadership in the early church. In those instances, Paul seems inclined to embrace the prevailing cultural view regarding the status of women in what were the patriarchal, male-dominated societies of the Greco-Roman world. However, in Galatians 3:28 and again in Romans 16:1-2 Paul shows more openness to the full and equal status of women in the church, no matter what the cultural norms might have been.

As the role and status of women in the world has changed, so must the church change its practices and policies regarding any attempt to prevent women from exercising leadership as preachers, pastors, and teachers in the church. I have personally ordained, hired, or installed over two dozen women into ministry positions. All of them continue to serve with distinction. The legacy of Mary G. Evans continues. Praise the Lord!

Marv Knox, Editor of the Baptist Standard, Dallas, TX:

Equal representation of clergywomen as pastors is vital for men as well as women. Let’s consider two perspectives.

First, what if you woke up and discovered more than half your body was paralyzed? The Apostle Paul called the church the “body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12-31), so this is a fair question. More than 50 percent of most congregations, as well as the church universal, are females. When we deny them the opportunity to serve as pastor, we separate the church from its base of strength. We prohibit the body of Christ from exercising its full potential.

 Second, women bring enormous gifts and blessings to the pastorate. Traits often exhibited abundantly by women—empathy and the innate ability to identify with others, intuition, and willingness to listen first and speak later—are essential qualities for successful pastors. From preaching, to pastoral care, to long-range planning, women pastors excel and expand God’s Kingdom.

 How can men advocate on behalf of women ministers?

• Encourage girls to grow up to be all God wants them to be—and mean it.

• Learn and quote Scripture passages that affirm the ministry of women.

• Speak up for women in ministry; put yourself between bullies and women in ministry.

• Encourage women ministers.

• Pray for them.

Rev. Scott Shirley, Pastor, Church in the Cliff, Dallas, TX:

First, it’s biblical – women have held ministerial positions in every era of the biblical narrative. Junia was an apostle; Phoebe was a deacon; Chloe was a head of household and leader in the church at Corinth; Miriam, Deborah, and Anna were prophets; Mary Magdalene was the first to proclaim the resurrection; unnamed women throughout the Bible mourn and grieve alongside those who suffer. Every task set before me as a minister was done by women in the Bible.

Second, roughly half the people in the world are women. How can the Church speak to women if we won’t allow women to speak with authority? How can we even know what to say if we don’t allow women’s voices in the room? How can we deprive ourselves of the wisdom, knowledge, experience, passion, and strength of half the world?

Finally, personally, I cannot count the number of strong, smart, passionate women I have been blessed to know and learn from. The female teachers, mentors, and colleagues that have helped form me in ministry by far outweigh the value of the men. That’s just the truth. To the men who object to having women in ministry, it is certainly your loss. But you must consider the loss to God’s people at your hands and repent.

Rev. Dr. John Ballenger, Pastor, Woodbrook Baptist Church, Baltimore, MD:

“Dad, why did the preacher say I must have misunderstood God?”

“One … two … three ….”

“What are you doing, Dad?”

“Counting to ten … slowly.”

“You know the dentist said it’s not good
when you grind your teeth together like that.” 

“I know. Thank you for reminding me.
Here’s the thing: do you remember
how utterly disappointed we were
at all the pictures we took on Cadillac Mountain
facing to the east,
looking out over the ocean and the Cranberry Islands,
and facing to the west,
looking out over the lakes and ponds and sounds and bays?
Do you remember how every picture
totally missed the scale of what we saw?”

“Yes. The pictures seemed so small.
And none of them got—
they all got just a little bit—a little piece of what we saw.”

“Exactly. And when it comes to God,
we all turn God and God’s vision for us and for creation
into a smaller version—a distorted vision.
Like with the pictures, it has to do with our limits.” 

“You mean with us being human beings and God being God?”

“Well there is that.
But I really don’t know how to think about what that means anymore.
So I mean more the limits of our imagination—
of our discipline, and commitment, and our compassion.” 

“The limits that keep us from what you’ve always called living big?”

And a lot of our limits—a lot of our living small
really boils down to fear—
the fear of what’s different—
the fear of not being in control—
the fear of losing control—of losing power.
I think most of our fear though—is the fear that we’re not special.”

“We’re terrified that we’re smaller than we are,
and then act all big because we’re afraid we’re not
and become smaller than we ever were to begin with.”

“Yes. And then don’t even know to be frustrated with the smallness—
or even acknowledge it.
As if to admit our small, somehow makes God small,
instead of simply affording us the opportunity to say
something about what’s so much bigger.”

“So instead of letting our small sink into big,
we shrink God.”

“All too often, yes.
But one of the best gifts of our God and of our faith,
if we’re open to it,
is the call of God’s big to our small—
the call of beyond and more to what is.
So if God calls you to include
and to love
and to speak out for and with those who aren’t listened to—
if God calls you to preach
good news that’s not easy—
that’s hard and hopeful—
good news that’s big,
then anyone who tells you you’ve misunderstood ….”

“You’re grinding your teeth again.”

“You know, if it’s just them
missing what you have to share,
that’s sad.
But if they are in positions to deny your voice—
to make your big seem small—
when their own small shrinks a vision so much bigger,
that’s infuriating—
still sad,
but even more infuriating. 

Ultimately, of course, small cannot contain big.
It can do a lot of damage trying.
More than just making parts of big real uncomfortable—
small can kill parts of big, but, in the end,
small cannot contain big.”

“That’s Easter, isn’t it?”

“That’s why it’s they who misunderstand.
In the end, it’s all Easter.
And the first one to get that—the first one to preach that—
the first one to preach Easter—”

“Was a woman!”

A Deacon in Heaven

Post author Rev. Dr. Jann Aldredge-Clanton serves as co-chair of Equity for Women in the Church and adjunct professor at Richland College. She is an Alliance of Baptists ordained minister and an award-winning hymn text writer and author of books on inclusive theology and worship. She blogs at

For more than 30 years my mother, Eva Aldredge Henley, advocated for the ordination of women deacons and pastors in her West Texas Baptist church. But that still hasn’t happened. She didn’t live to see this happen—at least not on earth. One of her church friends wrote in the memorial service guest book: “She’s a deacon in heaven!”

For 90+ years Mother prayed, along with Christians around the world, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Our Creator’s will for her was finally done in heaven. But why not on earth as in heaven? Why didn’t the churches she served so faithfully for so many years give her the freedom to become all she’s created to be in the divine image while she was on earth? Far too many churches still deny the divine image in women by denying them the right to be deacons, pastors, or priests.

All her long life Mother was a dedicated Christian and faithful church member. She taught Sunday school for 82 years. The Sunday before she went to heaven, she even taught her class. Her class, “Any and All,” is aptly named because she not only welcomed all to her class but actively sought them out. She invited anyone she saw—from the grocery store cashier to waiters at restaurants. Her class members have been of 5 different races, various ages, genders, and economic backgrounds—many who don’t feel comfortable in other Sunday school classes and churches. She lived Jesus’ words: “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).

She ministered to a diversity of people also in her role as pastor’s wife in four churches. Like my father, she had a seminary degree and abundant pastoral gifts. Her gregarious personality, dynamic speaking voice, and exceptional leadership skills made her every bit as qualified as my father to pastor a church. But she served churches as an unpaid, untitled outreach worker, events organizer, educator, and development officer. She co-founded a missions organization and led mission trips to eight countries, including 46 mission trips to Ukraine. She raised money for missions around the world. In addition, she ministered to students for 25 years in her position as a high school English teacher.

In spite of her long, faithful service, churches did not consider her “qualified” to be ordained as a deacon or a pastor because she was a woman. They ordained men half her age and younger with far fewer gifts and far fewer years of dedicated service. They counted them worthy and qualified because they were men. But no woman, no matter how gifted or called or how faithfully she served the church, was deemed worthy and qualified—simply because she was female.

Sadly, churches’ discrimination against women is still widespread. This discrimination has consequences. In a Baptist Standard article titled “How Do Evangelicals Enable ‘Locker Room Talk’ about Women?” editor Marv Knox calls out “male-dominated patriarchal” evangelical churches who contribute to “rape culture” by treating “women as objects” instead of as “creatures of infinite worth who bear the image of their Creator.” He writes: “Women are the backbone of the church, but in most congregations, they are not allowed to exercise leadership equal with men. Few allow women to be deacons; fewer still allow them to be pastors. So, no matter how many times they tell their daughters, ‘God made you, and you can be anything God wants you to be,’ they don’t mean it. Girls and women have their limits.”

President Jimmy Carter writes in A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power that “discrimination and violence against women and girls is the world’s most serious violation of human rights,” and he points out the religious basis for this discrimination and violence:

There is a system of discrimination, extending far beyond a small geographical region to the entire globe; it touches every nation, perpetuating and expanding the trafficking in human slaves, body mutilation, and even legitimized murder on a massive scale. This system is based on the presumption that men and boys are superior to women and girls, and it is supported by some male religious leaders who distort the Holy Bible and other sacred texts to perpetuate their claim that females are, in some basic ways, inferior to them, unqualified to serve God on equal terms.

A Baptist Sunday school teacher for more than 70 years, Carter gives thorough biblical support for the equality of women:

There is one incontrovertible fact concerning the relationship between Jesus Christ and women: he treated them as equal to men, which was dramatically different from the prevailing custom of the times. The four Gospels were written by men, but they never report any instance of Jesus’ condoning sexual discrimination or the implied subservience or inferiority of women. It is ironic that women are deprived of the right to serve Jesus Christ in positions of leadership as they did during his earthly ministry and for about three centuries in the early Christian churches. It is inevitable that this sustained religious suppression of women as inferior or unqualified has been a major influence in depriving women of equal status within the worldwide secular community.

Churches’ discrimination against women has consequences. Our recent Presidential election is a striking example. The majority of evangelicals and Catholics voted for a man who denigrated and abused women through his words and actions, even bragging about sexually assaulting women. This majority of evangelicals and Catholics didn’t value women enough to find this candidate’s behavior reprehensible enough to keep them from voting for him. Their churches have taught them that women are not really worth that much, not worthy enough to be ordained deacons, pastors, or priests. So it’s little wonder they don’t think a Presidential candidate’s misogynist words and deeds are a big deal. And since their churches have taught them that women are not qualified and worthy to be deacons, pastors, or priests, they don’t believe a woman, no matter how qualified, is worthy to be President either. They have learned well what churches, through words and actions, have taught them about the inferiority of women.

How long, how long will churches contribute to discrimination and violence against women by denying them freedom to fulfill their calling to be deacons, pastors, or priests?

Now more than ever, I feel the urgency of the mission of Equity for Women in the Church. Equity for Women in the Church is an ecumenical movement to facilitate equal representation of clergywomen as pastors of multicultural churches in order to transform church and society. Since the fall of 2013 this ecumenical, multicultural organization has been working towards justice and equality for women and girls. We work to tap all the unused talent and training of culturally diverse women. We advocate and network for women across denominations and cultures so that we have opportunities to fulfill our calling to be deacons, pastors, or priests. We work to change churches so they affirm the divine image in women and girls as making us worthy and qualified to be included as equals in every aspect of ministry. Love demands it. Scripture teaches it. Jesus modeled it.

As a “deacon in heaven,” Mother continues to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”—our Creator’s will for women to have equal freedom to become all we’re created to be. I’d like to believe that as Mother now has this freedom in heaven, she may be able to help make it so on earth.


Meet Rev. Kyndall Rae Rothaus

Rev. Kyndall Rae Rothaus is pastor of Lake Shore Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, and author of Preacher Breath (Smyth and Helwys, 2015).  

Rev. Rothaus kindly agreed to an interview with Equity for Women in the Church.

Equity for Women in the Church’s mission is to “facilitate equal representation of clergywomen as pastors of multicultural churches in order to transform church and society.”  How does this mission speak to you? 

Our world is so desperately in need of equal representation of women in church leadership. For far too long, the church has neglected to listen to the voices of half its population, and anytime you amputate a part of the body of Christ like that, it has severe consequences. However, this centuries-old crippling need not be permanent. I’m excited that Equity for Women in the Church is committed to healing the church from the fractures caused by sexism.

Have you experienced "subtle" and/or "blatant" sexism as a pastor?

Certainly. Most professional women in any field suffer sexism, though I think it is often worse in Christian settings unfortunately, because too many people of faith have misused the Bible to reinforce gender stereotypes and hierarchies. The sexism I experience is more often subtle than overt, and it is sometimes disguised as age discrimination instead. I sort of doubt my male colleagues of a similar age receive the same volume of unsolicited advice from elders and disparaging comments about their youth that I do.

I remember leading a workshop at a conference on how to thrive in your first year of pastoral ministry. I had recently completed my first year as a senior pastor at the age of twenty-seven, which I imagine is pretty young for a Baptist female in Texas. One of the workshop participants was a young man who had just begun his first pastorate. He was nineteen, and no one batted an eye. (Well, I might have batted an eye.)

All things considered, I’ve been quite fortunate. I’m in my second pastorate at the age of thirty-one while I consistently hear from women my age and older who worry they will never find a church who will hire them. Some of the churches who are open to women ministers in theory want to hire pastors with ministerial experience, but there are not nearly enough places to get experience. Women don’t get invited into their homes pulpits (usually). We’re often left to advocate for ourselves, all while battling the internalized messages that we aren’t enough and that we will not make it.

In your powerful response to Baylor University’s mishandling of sexual assault on campus, you make an explicit connection between the sexism perpetuated by the church and violence toward women: “When we’ve barred women from the pulpit regardless of how passionately they tell us they are called, we should not be shocked when some of our sons do not regard a woman’s sexual consent as necessary either.”  What are some ways churches can affirm women’s experiences and voices? 

Tell women’s stories. Quote female authors. Read books by women. Invite women into the pulpit—to pray, to preach, to read Scripture. Tell the stories of women in the Bible. Talk about abuse, assault, and violence against women from the pulpit.

When women do speak up, do not dismiss what they have to say just because it hasn’t been your experience. In group conversations, whether they be in Sunday School, meetings, or small groups, pay attention if male voices are dominating the conversation. Encourage equal participation. Celebrate bravery more than modesty. Invite children to lead in worship. Strive to have equal gender representation in all areas of the church’s life. Invite women to share their stories and testimonies.

Talk about God as both father and mother. Use gender inclusive language. Validate women’s concerns as important.

How do you help your congregation grow toward greater equality and gender inclusivity?  And how do you deal with resistance to these efforts?

I be myself. I look for ways to be more of myself. I think this is really important because we have not achieved equality if I (or anyone else) is having to fit into the traditional male model in order to succeed.

I try to model inclusivity by being intentional about including women and men in all areas of church life, especially leadership in worship. I encourage young girls to be brave and know their worth.

I bring a feminist eye to the Scriptural text and a sensitivity to woman’s experience to my interpretative work. I also (and I think this is the most important thing) try to let my own experiences of oppression create in me a deeper sensitivity, compassion, and passion for justice for all who are oppressed. Equality isn’t just about women. It’s so much bigger than that, so much more complex and intersectional. If my experiences don’t open my eyes to the oppression of my brothers and sisters, then I have wasted my suffering.

As for dealing with resistance, that’s a tough one. I try to be kind, pastoral, understanding, and patient without sacrificing my beliefs, my integrity, or my voice. It’s a difficult (and tiring) balancing act that’s nearly impossible to get just right. Discerning when to fight a battle and when to just let it be—these are tricky and sometimes daily decisions.

I try to remember that the resistance isn’t just “out there”—in the world, in my congregation—resistance is in me too. So I practice self-awareness, because it’s not like I’m immune to blind spots. It’s good to remember we are all learning, and even though I’m teaching, I’m also always learning, so I try to be a good learner. I try to be honest about what I’m learning, and hopefully with my own vulnerability I can ease some of the fears we all have about finding out we were wrong about something.

Self-care is hugely important, otherwise I’d crumble! I come close to crumbling often, but fortunately I have friends who piece me back together as often as I need it. We keep each other going, and that makes all the difference. I don’t think anyone should attempt ministry without friends. It’s too dangerous to do alone. Also, I try to practice gratitude, because for every setback, there’s almost always a joy to be found too. I forget to pay as much attention to the good things as the hard things, so gratitude helps me re-shift my focus every now and then so I don’t get to wallowing. Antidepressants help too, as does therapy, nature, and quiet mornings on the couch. Finding creative and nondestructive ways to process and release anger and grief are vital.

Often advocating for women in ministry is seen as a “women’s issue,” rather than as an urgent justice matter that impacts the whole church and every gender.  Why is it important for men to step up?  How can men advocate on behalf of women in ministry? 

First of all, sexism poisons everybody. Sexism has so many negative impacts on men as well as women. For example, we’ve been handed this distorted picture of masculinity—one that cuts men off from their emotions, disparages men’s tenderness and nurturing instincts, encourages violence, aggression, and domination, and even goes so far in some cases as to excuse criminal behavior. An overwhelming percentage of the world’s violence is perpetrated by men. It seems to me some of that brutality must stem from the unrealistic demands of “masculinity” that cripple too many of our men, fostering in them a fragility that must be tiptoed around, a sense of entitlement that must be preserved, and an insecurity about themselves that must remain hidden at all costs. Thank goodness for the men who have followed a different path, but when you are bombarded by harmful images of manhood, it is difficult to find your own way. I think if men and women worked together in relationships of mutual respect, we would help each other in significant and far-reaching ways.

One way for men to be advocates is to talk less and listen more. I remember asking a congregant if we ought to open the women’s Bible study to men and make it co-ed. She told me she’d rather not because men tend to dominate the conversation. I hear this from women all the time, and I don’t think most men even realize they do it. I know plenty of feminist men who still talk too much and too loudly. I love that they’re feminists. I would love it even more if an active part of their feminism was granting women the space to speak for themselves.

Don’t preach about why women are equal and should be preachers. Treat them as equals and invite them to preach. If you’re church “isn’t ready” for a woman in the pulpit, don’t accept that as an answer. When have God’s people ever “been ready” for God’s next thing? Most people don’t like change, but if change is the right thing, you have to be loyal to what is right, not loyal to what people want.

Also, cut it out with the sexist jokes. They aren’t funny.

Finally, pay attention to a woman’s intellect. We are perfectly capable of having a professional conversation without drooling over your body, and we expect the same level of maturity and competence from you. If you are unable to do so, you really ought to see a therapist about that.

What advice would you give to girls and women who are considering going into professional ministry?

Do it! We need you!

It’s a tough job, and so, yes, it’s a good idea to take your time prayerfully considering if this is the path for you. But if you choose not to go this route, do NOT let it be because you feel boxed in by your gender. That box deserves to be broken, and you deserve to be free of it.

Be you, and trust that you are enough.

Don’t feel like you have to defend your call to every naysayer who questions you. It’s not your job to change their minds. It’s your job to use your own mind to its fullest potential, and you really don’t have the time to waste it on people who won’t listen. It’s your job to be faithful to the work, and the work itself is your defense. Rock at what you do, and it’s harder for the opposition to stick.

What do you love most about being a pastor?

I love being safe space to people who are hurting. I love welcoming the formerly ostracized and the spiritual refugee. I love, love preaching. I love talking to kids at church and marveling at their imaginations. I love thinking creatively about worship, prayer, and Scripture. I love using my voice for good. I love writing and dialoguing with folks about what I’ve written. I love moving at a poet’s pace, when I can manage it. I love finding a new angle to an ancient story and bringing it alive for minds and hearts. It’s hard work, but I love standing for justice and knowing that a handful of the marginalized people in our town consider me their friend and ally. I love being innovative, and I love the moments in ministry when I really feel free to be myself.

A Legacy of Inclusion

Chris Individual picture.jpg

Post author Christine Y. Wiley is a senior pastor, American Baptist and United Church of Christ minister, in Washington DC.  She has recently completed research on the intersection of religion and mental well-being with African American women.

In one year my husband and I will retire from a church we will have pastored for thirty-two years. I have much on which to reflect. My church has a legacy of inclusion and trying to build the beloved community, which at times has felt daunting. For many, leadership in the church universal has only felt comfortable if the pastor, elder, bishop, or priest has been male. While I admit that I have witnessed many gains for women in ministry over the last 30 years, it is also true that, with regard to the issue of empowerment of women in the church, much remains the same.

In 1983, this writer became the first woman to be endorsed by Covenant Baptist Church in Washington DC for vocational professional ministry; and in 1986, the first woman to be recommended for ordination and employed by my local, dually-aligned, Baptist convention. My employment was not without some trouble and harassment. A council of nine white men was established to determine the worthiness of this twice-married, once-divorced African American woman ordained to the gospel ministry. They were pleased to find out that my first husband had abandoned my little girl and me, instead of the other way around. In their minds, it better suited my ecclesiastical history to have been a victim.  

Nevertheless, this council recommended that 79 churches come together to vote on whether an ordained female minister should be allowed to serve as denominational staff in a part-time program associate position in Christian Education. The major concern was not that I was a woman, but an ordained woman. 

This convention was aligned with one Baptist denomination that endorsed the ordination of women, and one that did not. It was used to the gifts and talents of seminary educated women, but the ordination became the stumbling block.

Although a majority of churches voted to install me into the Christian Education staff position, several churches insisted that I could not minister in their churches, nor could any of their mission offerings go towards my salary. The process took several months. During this waiting period I learned that I was pregnant with my younger daughter and, when she was three months old, was told that the position was finalized. God sometimes has a sense of grace and humor. The delay gave me time to develop the Christian Education Ministry in my church, establish my pastoral counseling practice, enroll in a D.Min. program, and spend time with my infant baby girl.

Over the years the number of women enrolled in seminaries has increased significantly. I am happy that out of the more than 30 sons and daughters who have entered the gospel ministry under our pastorate, the majority have been women with amazing gifts and talents who have gone on to serve in significant ministry positions. The other reality, however, is that whereas the men have often had the luxury to be called to other churches and institutions, many of the women serve in volunteer positions and are bi-vocational, multi-tasking super women who appear able to do anything. As often noted, women have had to be creative over the years in response to sexism in the world and in the church. Often, in order to be engaged in ministry, they minister to others about self care and Sabbath time, but my concern is that they often do not allow time to pay attention to their own self care. 

Sexism has been deeply felt by many women associate ministers who have been denied the opportunity to serve as senior pastors. After years of service, I am aware of male senior pastors who have become concerned about their female associate ministers who possess advanced degrees, exercise progressive thinking, and demonstrate a capacity for deep theological reflection. There have been more than a few occasions where I have found myself in counsel and consultation with such women who have served churches for years with hard work and innovative success, only to be told that the church is “going in a different direction” and their services are no longer needed.

Injustice and oppression is an ongoing battle that we must continue to engage. Although sexism is a part of this struggle, we as the people of God cannot afford to be concerned only about our personal oppression and not see what is going on around us. We are in the midst of the “Black Lives Matter” movement, mass incarceration, police brutality and murder, racism, Islamophobia, homophobia, and xenophobia.  Even when it comes to Equity for Women in the Church, we are not all necessarily in the same place theologically. What I appreciate, however, is the opportunity to dialogue even around our differences. As an African American, female, progressive clergywoman, I have come to realize that there are many intersections that describe us as human beings

My personal experience with sexism in the church, as well as racism in the academy and the world, illustrates to me that other forms of bigotry cannot be ignored. When our church ordained me many years ago, we were thrown out of our local Baptist ministers fellowship. These kinds of oppressive actions have sensitized our church, reminding us that all people are God’s people. Members, leaders, and clergy of this church have resolutely decided to love all of God’s people despite the objections of our more conservative brothers and sisters. Some, of course, complain that our prophetic ministry conflicts with the conservative typecast of the Black Church. Newer members, however, have come seeking a church where the unconditional love of Christ is evident and where people are not afraid to welcome a rich diversity of God’s people through a radically inclusive ministry.

Although we remain a predominantly African American congregation, we are also gay and straight; black, white, and Hispanic; and we span the entire range of ages. Those early Southern Baptist members of Covenant laid out a legacy of inclusion in the late 1960’s by calling a black pastor and inviting African Americans to join the church. This occurred in a racially changing community in the midst of white flight due to Brown vs. the Board of Education. We tested the idea of “the beloved community” by addressing sexism, classism, homophobia, ageism, and, yes, even Islamaphobia when we hosted a conference inviting experts, including local Imams, to address “Breaking down the Barriers that Divide Us.”

Has it been difficult to remain prophetic and address many of the “isms”? Yes it has. Have some left our church because of it? Yes they have. But many more of God’s diverse and progressively minded people have joined us to become part of a “beloved community.” A legacy of inclusion, justice, equality, and liberation emerged in this church. It has always been my query, since I was a little girl, wondering whether the church could really be the church—a place where differences and diversity can be loved and celebrated. Can we really practice what our faith teaches, or would we say it is too impractical, too messy, too uncomfortable? I remember, when talking to one of my parishioners about our responsibility in the face of oppression as Christians, he said, “Pastor, I’m not trying to hear all that. I’m just trying to come to worship, get my praise on, and go home and watch the game.”

Retirement is just around the corner—2017. There have been some hindrances, we have faced some challenges, and perhaps even some adversity, but so did the central figure of our faith. It is our understanding that this trailblazing ministry is not only necessary, but can help to heal the breach that divides people one from another. It will help us as a church to authentically know what love is as we continue to build the beloved community.

"I Can Do It" But Should I?

Post author Rev. Dr. Courtney Pace is Assistant Professor of Church History at Memphis Theological Seminary. She specializes in social justice issues in American religion, particularly race and gender. She is a board member of Equity for Women in the Church, creator of the "Stole Sisters" podcast, and a figure skating coach. 

I've spent a lot of time thinking about gender inequity in the workplace, particularly in church work and higher education.

Why aren't women paid the same? Are women asked to do the same amount of work as men? Why are women such reliable lay volunteers but excluded from top leadership, or in the case of higher education, why are the most reliable staff often women, but the top leadership are almost always men?

While this is still an ongoing wondering for me, I do have some ideas. Please keep in mind that these are all general tendencies, and that I am in no way trying to speak for all women or all men or all churches or all educational institutions. These are just general observations, to which I'm sure there are nuances. (And the reason I had to write that at all is because I know there will be men who read this and want to quickly correct me for how non-sexist they personally are, without even taking the time to think about how they benefit from the system by being male or how their complicity with these systems does perpetrate sexism.)

Women are incredibly competent. We are good organizers, good with people, and willing to work hard to acquire new skills. We are ideal employees!

We are also very good jugglers, because we have had to be. (This was the most unsatisfying punchline of a rom com ever, in I Don't Know How She Does It.) We are constantly juggling to-do lists, long-range plans, short-range plans, grocery lists, menus, drop-offs, pick-ups, health care needs and frequencies, car repair needs and frequencies, budgets, organizing strategies, physical fitness for the family, sports and activities for the family, whose birthday is when and what gift to give, upcoming travel plans, what to wear in the family photo and who/where/when to take it, etc. And that's just our personal life, what some scholars have called "emotional labor." Even if there is a partner to help with the execution of household and family responsibilities, women tend to be the ones who manage this work, keeping track of what needs to be done and when, and delegating the responsibility. We still hold it, even if others help us do it.

And, we are juggling in parallel at work. We are thinking about committees, reports, newsletters, events, networking relationships, upcoming hires, upcoming presentations, class prep, professional development, conferences, association membership and leadership, etc. And even those women who are lucky enough to have a staff to help them are having to keep track of everything to appropriately delegate the right tasks to the people who can best execute them. We hold it all.

And on top of that, women tend to volunteer for things much more often than men. Whether it's to demonstrate competency, lean in with ambition, or a sense of obligation to help others whenever in need, women tend to volunteer for way more than men do.

In higher education, this means women spend more time advising, counseling, serving on committees, assisting with other departmental efforts, etc, which takes a lot of time and often interferes with having sufficient time for things that directly lead to promotion - namely, teaching and publication. So, the system of university evaluation and promotion systemically disadvantages those who are more engaged in service, which typically means women and minorities, the very folks already facing disadvantage in the field.

In church life, this means women spend more time on pastoral care visits, answering phones or returning calls, sending cards, offering mid-week Bible studies, sitting on committees, or having planning conversations. They are the backbone of the work, but very little in the limelight. And because of expectations that pastors serve their congregations, and the prejudice against women pastors, it is very difficult for women pastors to say no or to set boundaries on their time.

Serving professions (teaching, ministry, social work, etc) attract people who care about others and want to make the world a better place through service. These fields attract a lot of women. And women tend to be among the most competent in all of these fields, and more.

But these are the same fields that tend to exploit the labor of women, letting them put in extra hours without bonus pay or promotion, letting them sign up for lots of extra service opportunities but not factoring that in their evaluations, expecting them to produce results but not guiding them in how to budget their time so that they can succeed on the career ladder.

I'm so tired of the quick-and-thoughtless response that women are choosing to raise families, which is why they aren't seeking career mobility. What that means is that women are still expected to do most if not all of the work of raising a family, even if they work full-time, but men now want to take half or more of the credit.

And what's worse, it's so rare for men to volunteer for something that, when they do, a big deal is made about it. How many times have you heard moms at school compliment a particular dad for helping, but not expect similar gratitude for their consistent above-and-beyond helping? He did it once, which is so rare and precious, so we must throw him a parade, but never mind that we rise to the occasion on top of our regular jobs day in and day out!

Just yesterday, a colleague and I were trying to visualize the life of some of the men we know professionally. Wake up and put on clothes you did not wash, eat a breakfast you did not cook made from groceries you did not purchase and put away, drive to work at a leisurely pace without the hubbub of children's drop-offs, work until you feel done for the day, drive home at a leisurely pace without the hubbub of children's pick-ups or errands, rest a bit in a comfortable chair before you eat a meal you didn't cook made from groceries you did not purchase and put away, read or watch television leisurely until you were ready to go to bed, and then repeat. We could not imagine it. Even when our children are staying elsewhere for a night, we are still juggling laundry, errands, menus, lists, tidying, health, and relationships. We don't get up when we want. We don't go to bed when we want. We often leave work before we feel done for the day. And when we do get home, we start an hours-long shift of caretaking, cooking, cleaning, and prepping for the next day. I'm lucky if I get 30 minutes of leisure time before I go to bed. But the men we were thinking of often post loving dad pics on Facebook, which is perhaps the only 30 seconds they spent with their kid all day. Most of their time is about themselves, yet they get credit for being an invested parent. Mom, on the other hand, is doing most of the work at work and most of the work at home, and it's "normal" so we take it for granted.

I doubt that most institutions mean to exploit the labor of women. I suspect that a problem is posed, a woman volunteers to help or has already demonstrated capability to solve the problem, and she is tasked. Women are doing more work, for less pay, and then going home and putting in another full-time job's worth of a shift to care for their families. Even if they have a staff at work and a supportive/responsible partner at home, women tend to carry the burdens.

It's a vicious cycle. If I say no to something I know I am capable of doing, I feel guilty, like I'm not being a responsible member of my community. But there are some things that I just don't have the resources to do. I don't have the time or emotional energy to take on every project that needs doing. Others have much more time than I do, they just aren't volunteering. Others know how to do the task just as well as I do, or even better, they just aren't volunteering.

And in the faculty/staff meeting, inevitably, the leader will ask for volunteers, there may be an awkward silence, and odds are a woman will fill it by volunteering herself. We are used to juggling a million responsibilities, so what's one more? We can get it done.

But is this ultimately helping us, making us look more like members of the team, and demonstrating our well-rounded capability? Or, is this keeping us in a hamster wheel, so bogged down in the things that others weren't willing to do, that we undermine our own career progress?

I'm not saying women shouldn't invest where they feel capable and able to help. Each woman should get to determine such things for herself. I'm saying that some environments recognize women as super jugglers and systemically take advantage of them, whether those environments realize they're doing this or not. I'm also saying some women don't realize when it's happening to them, and think that eventually their hard work will be recognized, but ultimately end up getting passed over for promotion by a man.

It's a complex problem that will require careful reflection by all involved. There's not one solution. The answers likely depend on the specific context. Some employers are being very careful to ensure that service counts for promotion. Some employers encourage their junior staff/faculty to judiciously limit their involvement so that their time can be devoted to developing new courses and publishing. And some employers insist on offering supplemental pay, revised job titles, or promotions for those who truly exceed their job descriptions. Some employers keep tally of who has volunteered for what and require those whose numbers are lagging to pull their weight.

But it is a problem. Even if women get to the executive table, which is still incredibly difficult, the table isn't set up for fairness. Men reap higher dividends even when women make bigger investments. The playing field is not level. And until the systems that perpetuate uneven expectations and uneven rewards for women are redeemed, we will have tokenism at best.

 This blog originally appeared at

Embodying Liturgical Seasons: Thoughts on Motherhood & Church

Post author Beth Honeycutt is a home economist living in Mars Hill, NC.  After divinity school, she served for four years as Minister of Christian Education at Binkley Baptist Church in Chapel Hill, NC.  She is now a full-time caregiver to her 7-year-old son and 3-year-old boy-girl twins.   She feels blessed to be parenting in partnership with her husband.  Beth is a Sunday School teacher at her church, Circle of Mercy, in Asheville, NC.

I love my church.  I am profoundly grateful for the ways they have supported me as a person and a mother.  Circle of Mercy shares the values of Equity for Women in the Church, as two women and one man founded the church in 2001.  We currently have two female co-pastors, whose lives as daughters, sisters, spouses, mothers, aunts, and grandmother strengthen their authenticity and authority.

I love that my children see collaborative leadership in preaching, worship, and decision making among men and women, old and young, lay and clergy, gay and straight.  I love how those who serve communion weekly always stoop over to share the bread and cup with my children.  I love how sometimes children are the communion servers, and others must stoop over to them.  I love that each staff person, from pastor to child care worker, is paid the same hourly rate.  Some staff are paid more than others because they need more time to carry out more duties, but the work roles have equal value.  We are by no means a perfect church, but it feels like home to me and my family.

 World Communion Sunday at Circle of Mercy (photo by Marc Mullinax)

World Communion Sunday at Circle of Mercy (photo by Marc Mullinax)

In light of my gratitude for my pastors and congregation, this blog invitation gives me an opportunity to put in writing some ideas I have been busy living.  Here at the edge of Eastertide, I find myself thinking how we can experience the rhythms of the church year in our bodies. Let me give you an example from my own life of early, biological motherhood: Lent, Eastertide, and Pentecost resonate with pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding.

Lent and pregnancy are periods of Waiting.  Preparation.  Expectancy.  Lent comes from a word that means “lengthen.”  Before Easter, the days lengthen (in the Northern Hemisphere).  The baby makes the pregnant mother’s belly lengthen, widen, and round: past a certain point, I couldn’t see my feet while standing!

Lent is traditionally a season of repentance, of setting aside certain things to make room for spiritual growth, of reordering priorities.  Pregnancy is a period of setting aside and reordering, too. The mother’s organs literally shift to make room for the womb.  I felt new priorities because of the new life inside, like the craving to have a specific food right-here-right-now or the sudden need to rest when I wasn’t planning a nap.  I declared a fast of sorts, abstaining from and limiting certain foods, even as my protein, calcium, and water intake skyrocketed.  I bonded with the toilet to respond to nausea in the beginning and a pancake-shaped bladder in the end.  I redefined “accomplishment” as my feet were propped after merely folding a load of laundry and checking the mail.  

Just as Lent is a time to develop new ways of being and moving in the world, the pregnant woman walks differently, sits differently, stands differently.  Belly grows, breasts grow, ankles grow, feet widen, head to toe bears weight gain. In the weeks nearing birth, I turned sideways in order to access the kitchen sink or the cutting board of vegetables.  St. Paul admonishes the Colossians to “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience…love” (3:12, 14).  As the pregnant woman embodies these values, she must literally wear different clothes!  I had new priorities because of the new life inside. 

Fasting, almsgiving, and prayer are traditional Lenten practices that shape our intentions and flesh out our desire to draw close to God.  Today, we may interpret fasting as promise-making, either by giving something up, or by vowing to do something important, all with God’s help.  Preparing for a baby has the fast-like quality of vowing to love, care for and cherish.  It involves child birth classes.  Car seat wrangling.  Diaper acquisition.  Baby care plans.  Name deliberation.  All with God’s help.

Almsgiving is generous concern for others.  In pregnancy, the “other” is both part of you and separate from you.  Because all nutrition goes first to the fetus, the woman’s very bones will cry out and surrender the calcium stores it had for her if she doesn’t eat enough of what the baby takes.  It is all too easy for women to give to others before we give to ourselves.  We must guard against depletion, anemia, burnout.  Through mothering and ministering, many women find it easy to be generous to and concerned for others.  Let us include our needs in this too!

Sometimes, almsgiving means that we are the poor and needy.  We may need to receive the almsgiving-generosity of others.  Church people are ever so generous to expectant and new parents, but only if I let it be my turn to receive, my turn to be vulnerable, my turn to rest.  From my own church community, I love that I asked for and received a blessingway in the weeks prior to my final pregnancy and delivery.  I love how people came to our apartment to help us with infant babies and a preschooler.  I love how even more came to help us move from apartment to house three years ago; we call ourselves “Mercy Movers” and help each other as needed. 

Conversation, bargaining, blessing, pleading with the divine….in other words, prayer…..comes naturally to most pregnant women.  In a single moment, I felt intense gratitude, desperation, humility and wonder.   My need for God and delight in God reached new heights.  I rediscovered Psalm 16 when I was pregnant: “…I keep the Lord always before me…my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure…”

And then. And Then!  The moment we’ve all been waiting for—Easter and birth!  Easter–a high, holy, feast day for the Church—celebrates Christ delivered unto life.  Birth delivers the child into air and light.  Birth delivers the mother from sciatica, gestational diabetes, heartburn, preeclampsia.  Birth fulfills the waiting to meet the little one face to face.  Birth is an incredibly definitive moment for mothers, a holy ground of opposites.  The travail of labor renders her weak and suffering, yet also strong and capable.  She may feel afraid and shy, and then totally uninhibited as the baby is placed in her arms!  Aware of both her mortality and power, the mother feels exhausted and elated, drained and triumphant.  Jesus dwelled in opposites too: he was dead, but is risen.  Risen indeed!

The miracle is irrepressible—neither controlled nor contained, but embraced.  The mother’s body stretches, the stone is rolled away.  I may not know how I gave birth; I may not know how God raised Jesus from the dead.  But I do know the miracles: the womb and tomb are empty!

People gather for Easter and for births.  There is much to celebrate as our joy is made complete.  The days are accomplished after 40 days in Lent and 40 weeks of pregnancy.  In awe of new life, we welcome the new baby and the resurrected Jesus.   

We also see that even a gorgeous, healthy, “normal” baby may have a misshapen head from passing through the mother’s pelvis.  We realize that Jesus was resurrected with his wounds.  The Eastertide stories show us that those closest to Jesus didn’t even recognize him.  Sometimes birth stories are complicated or traumatic.  The joy may be accompanied by regret; both are real, both are true.  With thanksgiving, we understand our need for God even more deeply.

After the birth, with God’s help, we incorporate the miracles into our everyday lives.  Breastfeeding and Pentecost bring us into seasons of discovery and growth, as new life in community takes root.  The resurrected Jesus appears to his friends, ascends to heaven, and the Holy Spirit descends on the people.  They see fire, they speak with different tongues, they share their wealth, they provide for the widows, they struggle through conflicts.  Their new community takes shape.

Breastfeeding was my favorite aspect of the early motherhood cycle.  Nursing was not such a demanding, head-to-toe-altering experience as pregnancy was; it was certainly less demanding than the hardest work of my life in labor.  Breastfeeding was a season of bonding on the outside, and getting to completely fill the need of the little one.  A desperate baby makes the mother dripplingly desperate too.  The breastfeeding hormones relax the twosome, then both are relieved and satisfied…the baby blissfully full, the mother blissfully empty.  I nursed my sons, and pumped and bottle fed my daughter; I feel the bonding and closeness is comparable…and must salute the added family workload tending bottles!

In the economics of nursing, mom and baby can trust one another to take and produce enough.  All that is needed can be found through sitting and eating together, praying and learning one another’s cues.…especially if the partner comes with frequent glasses of water, grandma changes a diaper, the church brings a meal, and grandpa folds the laundry.  This resonates with the shared common life of the First Church.  As the mother traces her stretch marks, as the disciples trace the marks in the risen Jesus’ hands, feet, and side—the miracle changes the whole community as it welcomes and provides for new life.

In my own church community, I love how from 9-18 months of age, my babies sat in high chairs and ate all through worship.  I love that an 85-year-old widower always asks how I’m doing: “Are your children running you ragged, or are you having a ball, or both?”  I love how my honorary grandmother in the church blesses the noise and shuffle of children in worship: “It means we have a hope and future!” she declares. 

Of course, not all of us know so intimately the experiences of pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding, but how might each of us recognize the rhythms of preparation, labor, new life, and bonding?  What if it is through fostering or adopting children?  Or through any relationship we build?  Through work and ministries?  And is our awareness of these rhythms heightened when women are our pastors?

God is a Big Brown Bear

Post author Rev. Daniel Miles is a Board Certified Chaplain and an Association of Clinical Pastoral Education Supervisor.  He works at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, NC and is an active member at Park Road Baptist Church.  He lives with his spouse and five-year-old daughter and loves craft beer and vinyl records. Daniel blogs at Shaken Parent Syndrome

On the way to church one Sunday morning, my daughter said from the backseat:

“Daddy, can we see God?”

I had to consciously remind myself that she is five and that she did not want or need a theology lecture.  Since I never know how to answer questions like this, I use a little trick cribbed from Socratic learning techniques:

“What do you think, sweetie?” I asked her back.  “Do you think we can see God?”

“No,” she answered.

Well, there you go, straight from the mouth of a kindergartener: we cannot see God.  But the curiosity of a child is not prone to merely asking questions it already knows the answers to.

“I wish we could see God,” she said

“Maybe sometimes you can,” I shrugged.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, can you see love?”

She thought for a moment.  “No.”

“But can you see when someone is doing something loving?”


“Then maybe sometimes we can see someone doing something that God would do.”

I glanced in the rearview mirror; I could see from her expression that she wasn’t buying this.

I didn’t want this to be the end of the conversation; I wanted to rescue this conversation so she would feel as if talking about such things were ultimately a worthwhile endeavor.  “Well, if you could see God,” I asked, “what do you think God would look like?”

Without hesitation she said, “A brown bear.”

I had not seen that coming.  I’d half expected her to give me the classic WASPy child’s answer of an old man with a white beard, but instead I got a brown bear.  I couldn’t help but laugh with surprise – and not a little delight at her rich, if unintentional, subversion of stereotypical God images. 

“Is it a friendly brown bear?” I asked, suddenly struck by one possible problem with this metaphor.

She shrugged and rolled her eyes.  “Of course!”

“So you think God is a cuddly brown bear?” I summarized.  “Sounds good to me.”

After a few moments, she said, “I wish God was in the car with us.”

Again, my silly need to protect abstract theologizing overcame me and I said, “Maybe God is in the car with us.”

“Uh, no he isn’t,” she snapped, “or I would see him.”

“Oh, right,” I winced.  “Well, what would you do or say if you could see God in the car with us?”  At that thought, my own mind went straight to all the times that I, too, had wished for an audience with God.  My need for answers and explanations; my longing for an accounting of the sufferings I’ve seen; an assurance of some purpose at work beneath everything.

She looked out the window wistfully.  “I wish he was here right now so I could cuddle with him.”

I almost pulled the car over so I could let that soak in for a moment.  I pictured my child wrapped warmly in the protective arms of a fuzzy brown bear, no need for answers or explanations or assurances beyond warmth and presence.  My eyes filled with tears.

“That would be really wonderful,” I said after clearing my throat.  “Maybe sometimes God sends us other people who will cuddle us.  Maybe that’s how God cuddles with us, by bringing us other people who love us and cuddle us and look out for us.”

She frowned and continued to stare out the window; going abstract just wasn’t getting us anywhere.  She asked me more questions about God.  How does God eat?  How can God be in all places at once?  Where does God live?  All questions of concrete curiosity about this strange thing called God.  I answered as best I could, trying to avoid abstractions, and probably saying more about what I didn’t know.

My child is a concrete thinker.  It’s her job; it’s what her brain is built to do right now.  Intellectually, there are a lot of things in this world that are impossible to fully comprehend only from the concrete: love, hope, peace, God.  However, there is something really grounding and embodied about letting my child lead me into the concrete realities of these things.  Because I can philosophize about the nature of God all day long, but my real experiences of the divine are things I’ve felt in my gut and in my bones.  I’ve read a lot of books about emotions and love and passion, but the things I truly believe about the nature of love come from the ways I have been loved, and the only ways I’ve ever been loved are by people doing things for me in concrete, real, experienced ways.

I have no idea where God lives or what propels God’s existence or even what God is on any basic ontological level.  (Sorry, theology professors who taught me in seminary.)  I do know, however, that when I joined my child’s image of God – imagining with her how much she’d love to have a big teddy bear snuggle and protect her – that I felt close to God in that moment.  I felt warmth in my chest, felt a twinge of longing in my gut, felt the tears come to my eyes.  Those were all concrete experiences even if they came from trying to ponder abstractions.

It is essential that we have images for God.  We are imaginative creatures who make meaning through stories and symbols.  How can we understand a thing like the divine without the stories of scripture and our own lives?  Without the taste of bread and wine among friends?  Without the cleansing coolness of water or the sweet smell of oil and incense?  Without the hands of parents or the laughter of friends or the exhilaration of air in our lungs and sunlight on our cheeks?  I overlook all the concrete experiences that inform my understanding of God’s presence in favor of the vast and arcane theological arguments, but it is impoverishing for me to do so.  My child has no choice but to live in the concreteness of her life and it would do me good to join her.

A significant concrete experience of her life is living in her body.  Toes and fingers and curly hair and yes, the things that lead her and those around her to identify her as a girl.  Even though inclusive language is a theological concept adhered to with strict discipline in both our household and our church, she has still absorbed the tendency to speak of the divine with masculine pronouns.  For now, I don’t correct her; the abstractions of gender and language don’t seem particularly illuminating without the capacity for formal operational thinking.  But she sees a woman in the pulpit every Sunday morning at our church.  For the ways in which she sees pastoral leadership embodied by a strong, confident, thoughtful woman, it is well worth pleading with her to sit quietly while Pastor Amy preaches.  And as a church and family, we must continue to help her see herself in the divine, as we tell stories of faithful women disciples and of God as friend, Spirit, mother, midwife, sister.  As she uses the concrete world around her to learn to imagine, her mother and I want her to include as vast an array of images as possible in her make-up of divine possibilities: women, bears, and anything else she can dream up.

Of course, she is learning to experience the abstract through the concrete, even if she can’t yet comprehend it.  I’m thankful that she has people in her life who will cuddle and hold her and protect her and encourage her.  I’m thankful that she has food to eat and a bed to sleep in and shoes for her feet.  Her concrete experiences of care and provision will help her trust a God who seeks goodness and blessing for everyone.  And I’m thankful that she in turn can remind me of the concreteness of goodness.  Not just so I can get in touch with my own blessings, of which I have experienced many, but also that I might seek to be a concrete good for others.  Goodness – indeed, Godness – comes in many, many forms.